Stories within stories can be either the coolest cinema experience or the most convoluted, but they’re always daring to say the least. Fashion designer turned director Tom Ford definitely keeps his roots in creating gorgeous art intact, but with Nocturnal Animals being only his second directorial effort, how does he fair? The film stars Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Armie Hammer, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Iala Fisher, and Laura Linney. The film is gorgeously shot which is clear from the make-up, the art within the film, and of course the cast and the clothes on their backs. Of course, that’s not what makes a terrific film.
To try to explain this film is like trying to examine how one solves a rubix cube and unless you know how to solve a Rubix cube already, I would best not bother wasting your time with the detailed explanation. What you need to know is that Amy Adams delivers another terrific performance with subtlety, suspense, and vibrancy all at once. Susan Morrow (Adams) is a successful artist living with her second husband Walker Morrow (Hammer) in what looks to be a wondrous mansion, but it’s when Susan gets a book titled “Nocturnal Animals” by her ex-husband does the story within a story truly begin. Dripping with suspense as it leaves you with an unquenchable curiosity for answers, Ford feels like he’s experimenting with conceptual storytelling as if the film were made by a young film student who read too many James Patterson novels in between.
One thing doesn’t falter through this experimental narrative is the outstanding acting by the entire cast. One in particular who excels beyond our lead is Aaron Taylor-Johnson who many know from being Kick-Ass or Quicksilver in Avengers: Age of Ultron, but clearly this is where the young actor excels the most in his craft. Gyllenhaal is also impressive as a few characters in the film, but that’s for you to discover, and Michael Shannon continues his reign of excellence with every passing role he gets. As a good ol’ West Texas police officer (sheriff?), Shannon just steals his scenes without us ever questioning it when it happens. When you can take the spotlight away from a world-class actor such Gyllenhaal, you ascend into something more impressive than world-class.
I will warn you all, this is a grim film at times with thematic elements that definitely make me uncomfortable, but it’s that feeling of discomfort that made me realize this is a terrifically executed production from beginning to end even if I think that the story feels like I am driving around a neighborhood with no intent on knocking on anyone’s doors. It almost doesn’t feel like a movie, but rather a mental exercise that helps you sweat out those deep rooted emotional angsts that you didn’t know you had. Tom Ford definitely has the skills to make outstanding films if he so chooses and this is a testament to his abilities at producing engaging pictures for an adult audience who won’t be able to stop watching to find out what is coming next.